Thru-hiking has been a life-changer for me. Common walking is restorative to the mind and physical body but walking hundreds and thousands of miles consecutively can change a person permanently in a very important sense. Thru-hiking is a life re-imagined. There is something amiss in the modern hiking scene when gear fashion assumes greatest importance. What about the calling of the individual to be directed to such a pursuit? How did an ambitious activity of this sort come to be in the first place? One cannot forget the human determination that drives one to such lengths. The heart cannot be sold or traded. An end-to-end hike originates on the inside, not the outside. This is an attempt to describe to others what it means to me to be a long-distance hiker and set out on such an extraordinary life event, an experience that will change a person forever after.
The trail does not go in a straight line…nor do our lives.
For the path leads those who walk upon it to some distant place and yet one may discover that it is not the destination’s arrival that holds meaning insomuch as the getting there. The between-spaces, the intermediate, the people met along the journey. Blazing great distances is the process of forward movement and incremental personal triumphs. Then there is an emotional feature to this pursuit. A drama of the interior life.
The long-distance hiker is a kind of traveler—a foot-traveler who moves about with his house mounted on his back. He is an adventurer, a seeker, a darer whose quest is one of exploration and searching. The practitioners of this outdoor enterprise, known to the world as “thru-hikers,” are nomadic vagabonds, tramps, creatures on the move, living like gypsies as they revel in the glory around them. A journey of this magnitude—a mega-hike as it were—is uncategorical. It offers demands on its own terms. The senses are overwhelmed. Treading upon enormous lengths of the earth commences as an act of human will but soon enters a spiritual plane—a dialogue with the eternal. To walk end-to-end is to live freely, to absorb the riches of the natural world, and to enlarge one’s sense of human experience.
Cervantes once wrote, “The road is always better than the inn,” and for the one who walks with a pack and a stick upon a dusty trail, this resounds all the more. While the extent of the trail’s length is so vast, the long-persevering hiker presses on undeterred. The scenes of creation play out as the hiker moves through it. His thousands of footsteps are the chronicling of a great journey that illuminates a chief characteristic of humanity—the longing for human fulfillment. Such an activity is the reinstatement of the spirit of wonder and original adventure.